Who were the Huguenots? Currents of Cultural & Linguistic Change in France & Early Modern Europe.

Pictured above are French Protestants at Lyons Temple service, which was converted from an ordinary house. The hatted preacher is timed by an hourglass, and the two sexes are seated mainly in separate parts of the temple.

Introduction – A Retrospective on Genocide & Deculturation:

The word ‘genocide’ is essentially a term relating to events in the twentieth century, mainly to the period of the Second World War and more recent events in Rwanda and Bosnia. A dictionary definition refers to killing a whole people, especially an entire race. However, in more recent decades in the current century, it has been used of ethnic conflicts in China, Burma and Syria and of the current war in Ukraine to describe the attempt by Russia to eradicate the independent statehood and cultural identity of the Ukrainian people. In this attempt, the Russian invasion has much in common with previous attempts of Tsarist and Soviet Russia to absorb Ukraine into a ‘greater,’ imperial state against its will by mass atrocities against its civilian population as well as by the destruction and misappropriation of its cultural artefacts and demotion of its unique language. Although these actions may not be exactly equated with ‘genocide’, they represent a deliberate campaign of ‘deculturation’ similar to those that have taken place in European history, dating back to the later Middle Ages and Early Modern times. In Western Europe, examples of this can be found in the Spanish ‘reconquest’ of previously predominantly Moorish territories and in France by the wars against the Huguenots in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These were both examples of ‘religious crusades’, but within absolutist nations, they also involved the ‘deculturation’ of entire ethnic minority societies through every available means.

France & Europe in the Later Middle Ages & Early Modern Times:

The late fifteenth century saw a consolidation of many European states and a coalescence of Europe into the contours that shaped it for almost four centuries until the crisis of nationalism in the nineteenth century. In the southwest, the Spanish state emerged with the final conquest of Grenada from the Muslims in 1492 and the union of the crowns of Aragon and Castille. The French kings continued to expand the royal domain until by 1483, only the Duchy of Brittany remained more or less independent, and even this was absorbed early in the fifteenth century, as shown on the map above. England, too, although it had lost its lands in France, except for Calais, by the Treaty of Arras of 1453 and was racked by civil wars from 1453 to 1471, began to emerge under the Tudor dynasty from 1485 onwards as a maritime power, whose interests in terms of territorial expansion lay outside Europe. Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, national boundaries had been hardened. The concept of ‘statehood’ was beginning to emerge, becoming politically more significant than the “nation” itself in its original meaning of a people of common descent. This development is most marked in the consolidation of England, Scotland and France.

The Swiss had no central authority but still defended their lands tenaciously against threats from the Burgundians and the Habsburgs. They extended the scope of their Confederation steadily in the second half of the fifteenth century, as the map above shows. By the 1460s, Lake Constance had been reached, and the Rhine crossed. In 1466 Berne made a defensive alliance with the Alsation city of Mülhausen, a significant extension in the territorial scope of Swiss commitments. The defeat of Charles the Bold of Burgundy led to greater attention being paid by France and the German Empire to Swiss ambitions, and the Confederation made further gains. In 1481, Fribourg and Solothurn were accepted as additional members by the Agreement of Stans. Finally, in 1499, the Swiss forced Emperor Maximilian to acknowledge their independence from his Holy Roman Empire. Their determination and fighting qualities had reaped their reward.

Remarkable changes occurred in Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century and sixteenth century; so far-reaching were they that historians considered to mark the transition to the modern period. But it’s important to remember that this distinction between medieval and modern times is simply a device to help historians define and develop their study’s scope. In reality, there was no break in the continuity of civilisation in the fifteenth century, either in its middle or later years. Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, men and women, primarily inspired by their religious beliefs, had been building European civilisation, one brick at a time. We also need to be careful not to apply too much historical hindsight to a perceived transition period or to see a pattern of inevitability in the random events of the arbitrary period between 1480 and 1530. The triumph of the nation-state, whose beginnings are now conventionally traced to the start of the sixteenth century, would have seemed improbable to someone born in its first decade. Moreover, the most prosperous states appeared to be multi-national ones, like the Swiss Confederation or the ‘universal monarchy’ built up by Charles V, which encompassed Spain, the Netherlands and the Austrian dominions of the Habsburgs. By contrast, the territorial kingdoms to the west, such as France and Spain, had seen their economic position badly affected by prolonged warfare and civil strife.

Charles’ Imperial title, the secular counterpart of the Papacy, still carried immense prestige, giving its holder pre-eminence over other, lesser monarchs. Charles won it only in the face of a bitter challenge from Francis I of France, who saw the danger of Charles V, as Emperor, ruling a ring of territories around France, in Spain, Italy and Germany. The French king regarded himself as the legitimate heir of the first emperor, Charlemagne, and tried unsuccessfully to play on this sentimental claim. Having been elected Emperor in 1519 at the age of twenty, Charles faced an uphill struggle in keeping his domains united. In the first half of the sixteenth century, the rise of Protestantism placed an additional strain on the empire. He failed to suppress it by force, despite temporary success in 1547-52 but held firm to Catholicism even though, in Germany at least, it might have been more expedient for him to convert to Lutheranism, as many of the German princes had done. Consequently, he relied increasingly on Spain and its overseas empire to provide money and manpower for his wars against France and to meet the Ottoman challenge on his eastern frontier and in the Mediterranean.

Roots of Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean France:

Recognised as a pioneering work of “total” history when first published in France in 1966, Le Roy Ladurie’s The Peasants of Languedoc combines human geography, historical demography, economic history, and folk culture elements. It provides a broad depiction of a tremendous agrarian cycle, lasting from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. It describes the conflicts and contradictions of a traditional peasant society in which the rise in population was not matched by increases in wealth and food production. At the end of the fifteenth century, the rural society of Languedoc in the South of France raised itself from the ruins and set off on the high road of early modern development. The problems raised by the expansion of a pre-industrial society required an inter-disciplinary approach, an appeal to documents and statistics of the most diverse sought and the discovery of the actual movements behind the abstract data of local records. Ladurie used the earlier demographic research of geographer Raymond Dugrand to isolate certain anthropological constants. The constants resulted from regular migrations of past peoples with their flocks and herds of animals and cultivated plants. Behind the abstract data, at the end of a lengthy inquiry, the once-living individuals, the peasants of Languedoc, re-emerged in their social context.

By the conclusion of his research process, Ladurie could observe the people’s activities, struggles, and thoughts. Quantitative methods, no matter how rigorously applied, can only furnish a rough though indispensible framework to fill. But he also realised, as a matter of common sense, that the Malthusian obstacles to expansion were not all of material nature. In the primary qualitative evidence, he found formidable obstacles in mental attitudes and discerned invisible frontiers of the human spirit. He identified these spiritual stumbling blocks in the chronicle of hopeless popular revolts and peasant religions’ bloody history. Ladurie showed how the unequal economic development of the Languedoc region created social and cultural change:

It brought in its wake new states of consciousness, social struggles and conflicts over land; it engendered wars and revolutions. It was attended by a deep and sometimes lasting permutations in peasant mentality.

Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc: p. 149

It was against this backcloth of economic, social and cultural change that the Calvinistic Reformation grew and spread in southern France east along the Rhóne, the French-speaking Swiss cantons and up the Rhine from Strasbourg.

A Brief History of Calvinism in Western Europe:

The Protestant Reformation broke out in Switzerland simultaneously with Germany but independently. In 1536 John Calvin (1509-64) was unwillingly pressed into leading the Protestant cause in French-speaking Switzerland. A Frenchman, he had been born at Noyon in Picardy and became a conscientious student at Orléans, Bourges and Paris. There he took up the methods of humanism, which he later used “to combat humanism.” He also came into contact with the teachings of Luther and, in 1533, experienced a sudden conversion:

God subdued and brought my heart to docility. It was more hardened against such matters than was to be expected in such a young man.

He next broke with Roman Catholicism, left France and lived as an exile in Basle. There, he began to formulate his theology, publishing (in 1536) his first edition of The Institution of the Christian Religion (better known as The Institutes). It was a clear, brief defence of Reformation beliefs. Guillaume Farel, the Reformer of Geneva, persuaded Calvin to help consolidate the Reformation there. In 1537 all the townspeople were called upon to swear loyalty to a Protestant statement of belief. But the Genevans opposed Calvin strongly, and disputes in the town, together with a quarrel with the city of Berne, resulted in the expulsion of both Calvin and Farel. Calvin went to Strasbourg, where he came under the influence of Bucer, who encouraged him greatly.

Martin Bucer (1491-1551) was the Reformer at Strasbourg. He had been a Dominican friar but left the order and in 1522 married a former nun. He went to Strasbourg in 1523 and took over leadership of the Reformation there. He became one of the chief statesmen among the reformers and was present at most of the important conferences of the Reformers. Bucer tried to mediate between the divided Zwingli and Luther in an effort to unite the German and Swiss Reformed churches. His discussions with Melanchthon (who continued Luther’s work in Germany) led to peace in the debate over the sacraments at the Concord of Wittenberg.

Philip Melanchthon taught in this room in Wittenberg.

Meanwhile, Calvin’s theological writings, especially the Institutes and numerous commentaries on the Bible, did much to shape the Reformed churches and their confessions of faith:

Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a Church of God.

John Calvin, in The Institutes.

He developed the Presbyterian form of church government, in which all ministers served at the same level, and the people were represented by lay elders. Calvin is often remembered for his severe doctrine of election, mainly that some people are predestined to destruction:

We declare that by God’s providence, not only heaven and earth and inanimate creatures, but also the counsels and wills of men are governed so as to move precisely to that end destined by him.

John Calvin

But Calvin also set out the way of repentance, faith and sanctification, intending that his theology should interpret Scripture faithfully, rather than simply developing his own theological ideas. In 1539, he published a commentary on the book of Romans, and many other commentaries followed. He also led the growing congregation of French refugees in Strasbourg, an experience which matured him for his task on returning to Geneva, which he did in September 1541. The city council accepted his revision of the city laws, but many bitter disputes followed. Calvin tried to bring every citizen under the moral discipline of the church, but many quite naturally resisted such restrictions, especially when imposed by a foreigner. Therefore, he set about establishing a mature church by preaching daily to the people and devoting much energy to settling the disputes within Protestantism. In particular, he brought the French-speaking and German-speaking churches closer together.

Calvin was a great systematiser, taking up and reapplying the ideas of the first generation of Reformers. His work was characterised by discipline and practical application. For him, like Luther, all knowledge of God was to be found in the Bible as the Word of God. Pardon and salvation are only possible through the free working of the Grace of God. Calvin believed that the church was supreme and should not be restricted by the state. He gave greater importance to its external organisation than Luther but regarded only baptism and communion as sacraments. Baptism was the individual’s initiation into the new community of Christ, and communion was more than merely a symbol, as Zwingli had argued. However, he too warned against any belief in a ‘magical’ presence of Christ in the sacrament. During his final illness, he wrote the following testimony:

… I was hunted out of this town and went to Strasbourg … I was recalled, but I had no less trouble than before in trying to do my official duty … Whilst I am nothing, yet I know that I have prevented many disturbances that would otherwise have occurred in Geneva … God has given me the power to write … I have written nothing in hatred … but always I have faithfully attempted what I believed to be for the glory of God.

John Calvin, in 1564.

One of his students caricatured John Calvin during an idle moment in a lecture.

In a way, Calvin had been trying to build a more visible Corpus Christianum or ‘City of God’ in Europe, with Geneva as its model. In his later years, his authority was less disputed by Genevans. He founded the Geneva Academy, to which students of theology came from all parts of western and central Europe, mainly from France. Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva were succeeded respectively by Johann Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75) and Theodore Béza (1519-1605), who both kept alive the Reformed tradition.

Theodore Béza replaced Calvin as the leader of Reformed Protestantism in Geneva. Although trained as a lawyer, a book of love poetry gave him a reputation as a Latin poet. In 1548, following a severe illness, Béza went to Geneva and announced that he had become a Protestant. He was made Professor of Greek at Lausanne University and, in 1559, became the first rector of the Genevan Academy. He remained in Geneva, intimately involved in its affairs, becoming Calvin’s successor and one of the leading advisors to the Huguenots in France. He participated in their conferences (Poissy, 1561, New Rochelle, 1571) and defended the purity of the Reformed faith. He produced new versions of the Greek and Latin New Testament, which became essential sources for the Genevan and King James Bibles. He also wrote a biography of Calvin, De jure magistratum, an important Protestant political work, and other polemical and theological tracts. Following the Genevan model, these writings and activities aimed to establish the Reformed faith throughout Europe.

Under Béza’s leadership, Geneva became fully established as the centre of Reformed Protestantism. Between them, Bullinger and Béza exercised significant influence in France, Holland, Germany, Scotland and England through their teaching and hospitality to the many exiles from persecution in their native lands, especially the Huguenots from France. In France itself, the pattern of reform was very different from that in Germany and Switzerland, where there was solid support for the Reformation from all classes in society, from princes to paupers. In France, it had essential converts among the nobles, like Coligny, and among the gentry. It also won converts among the ‘heretical’ lower clergy and among friars. It attracted the educated urban classes of lawyers and bureaucrats, teachers and doctors, merchants and manufacturers. However, it lacked support in many rural areas, where the peasantry remained firmly ‘wedded’ to the Roman Catholic church. The Calvinist church grew throughout the 1540s and 50s, despite fierce persecution under Francis I and Henry II; its pyramidical structure of neighbourhood consistories, local colloquies, provincial synods and national synod. However, the French people, and the court and the church, in particular, were far less supportive, if not outright hostile. As a result, the first Protestants faced death or exile. Reform took on the nature of a political movement in this hostile environment.

Nevertheless, once the Reformed faith had been established in French-speaking Switzerland, Calvinists formed a congregation in Paris in 1555. Over seventy churches were represented at a first national synod in Paris in 1559, and its semi-democratic sources of authority were based on elections at every level. Its independence from existing governmental and ecclesiastic institutions was perceived as a threat to the French state. It was also invigorated by regular contact with missionaries sent by Calvin and Béza from Geneva. The Protestant faith spread rapidly in the provincial provinces of Normandy, Brittany, Guyenne, Languedoc, Province and Dauphiné, as well as in the cities of Orléans and Lyons, where royal authority was at its most tenuous. Thanks to Béza, it accepted the military protection of the Bourbon connection: an alliance which also donated to Bourbons a moral cohesion and force never before enjoyed by an ‘over-mighty subject’ in the form of Henry Navarre.

Meanwhile, in southern Europe, and especially in some crucial regions of the South of France, a reformation and re-invigoration proceeded within the Catholic church. The conflict between Calvinism and the ‘Counter-Reformation’ resulted in religious wars, fought out most bitterly in France and, by Spain, in the Netherlands. Even more than the rise of nationalism, the sixteenth-century Reformations split Western Europe’s unity and made inter-dynastic diplomacy difficult in the extreme.

The Wars of Religion in France & Western Europe, 1562-1697:
Western Europe on the Eve of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

In France, the series of civil wars that followed, involving both religious and political issues, raged on between 1562 and 1598. The personal weaknesses of the monarchs became evident when the unexpected death of Henry II in 1559 left power in the hands of his foreign widow, Catherine de Medici and her four inadequate sons. The wars began as conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots. They ended in a rivalry between the three Henrys for the throne – Henry III, the last of the Valois and son of Catherine de Medici, the French Regent; Henry of Guise, leader of the Catholic party who secured the help of Philip of Spain; Henry of Navarre, the leader of the Huguenots. Navarre also won the support of the anti-Spanish Catholics (the Politiques). The Huguenots were also aided from time to time by England, Holland and the German Protestant princes. The Catholic League supported the Catholic Party, sponsored by Spain, Savoy and Rome.

On the eve of St Bartholemew’s Day, 23 August 1572, the conflict came to a head when Catherine de Medici, despairing of attempts to find a modus vivendi with her Protestant subjects, ordered a policy of savage repression instead. She decided to solve all her problems, as she thought, by abandoning her position above the factions and having Coligny assassinated, but the scheme was bungled when the Guises shot him but failed to kill him (22 August). As religious tension rose in Paris, Catherine decided on a panic measure of eliminating the entire Huguenot leadership, who were conveniently assembled for their national Synod in Paris. She eventually persuaded her son, now king, that the Huguenots were poised to strike first, to agree to the murder of a handful of them, beginning with Coligny, who was stabbed at 2 a.m. and then thrown out of the window. The Parisian Catholics took this as a cue to massacre about three thousand Huguenots. The rage spread through the following autumn to the provincial cities, where about ten thousand more were said to have been similarly murdered in cold blood.

The St Bartholemew’s Day Massacre shattered but did not destroy the Reformation in France. However, it plunged France into a further generation of religious warfare. It also provided a potent symbol for the whole of Europe of the hardening hostility between Catholics and Protestants, resulting directly from the determination of Catholic rulers, inspired by the Counter-Reformation, to establish and enforce religious uniformity within their lands. The spread of Calvinism through crucial sections of the French nobility and to important coastal towns such as La Rochelle alarmed Catherine. For the Huguenots, the Massacre was a watershed, for they were now too weak to aim at turning France into a Protestant country and lowered their sights to the achievement of security and toleration within a Roman Catholic state. It also changed their political theory. Influenced by Béza’s book Du Droit des Magistrats surs les Sujets (1574), they made the breakthrough into the unashamed philosophy of the right of resistance to tyranny by force. Putting theory into practice, they organised an effective Huguenot state in the South, stretching from Dauphiné in the east across Provence, Languedoc, Béarn, Guyenne and Poiteau as far as La Rochelle in the west.

Meanwhile, Philip II of Spain faced a similarly grave Protestant challenge in the Netherlands. The rebels were inspired not only by religion but also by hatred of Philip’s attempts to impose an absolutist system of government on the Seventeen Provinces he had inherited. Philip II had been totally distracted from this task by the need to fend off the Turkish incursions in the Mediterranean. Philip II’s viceroy in the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva, enjoyed considerable success in pacifying the Dutch rebels, even defeating an invasion organised by William of Orange in 1568. Still, the taxes required to pay Alva’s troops soon caused more unrest. In 1572 Orange persuaded the French Calvinists to join him in a fresh invasion: while he led an army from Germany in the east, his navy launched an assault on Holland in the north, and Huguenot forces captured Mons in the South. However, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre cut off further aid from France and allowed Alva to drive Orange back into Holland. Then a long and expensive war began, with siege and counter-siege, in which the rebels could not be dislodged. Spain nevertheless refused to concede toleration to the Dutch and persisted in fighting a war it could not win. The Massacre in France and the revolt in the Netherlands also had severe ramifications for the English attempts to develop an Anglo-French alliance against Spain.

As early as 1570, negotiations had been taking place concerning the marriage of Elizabeth to a French prince. Elizabeth, anxious to delay the conflict implicit in her rapidly worsening relations with Spain, was prepared to negotiate with protestants in Scotland, the Netherlands, and Catholic France. In 1572 England and France were allied by the Treaty of Blois, signed just before the Massacre of the Huguenots on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day. France might be catholic, but it did not, at that point, seem as uncompromisingly catholic as Spain, which did not even have a significant protestant minority. France was anti-Spanish to the extent of supporting the protestant rebels in the Netherlands. Ironically, it had been Philip II’s efforts to impose a standard system of absolutist rule on the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands in the face of their mutual rivalries that forced them together. It was to take altogether more gifted generals, above all Parma, much effort over many years to split the French-speaking Catholic provinces from the Protestant Dutch-speaking areas. By identifying rebellion with religion, Parma and his successors were able to win back the bulk of the southern provinces, which had formed the Union of Arras in 1579. The decision of the Protestants in the northern Union of Utrecht to attack the South caused the southerners to appeal to Spain for troops to protect them and gave Philip II the excuse to carry through their re-Catholicisation. Open hostilities between England and Spain began in 1585, and this state of affairs between the former allies continued until 1604. Two years before the Armada sailed, the Treaty of Berwick (1586) bound England and Scotland in a defensive alliance that even the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, could not disturb. One historian has described Elizabeth’s foreign policy as follows:

… as long as France seemed capable of independent action and the Netherlands of prolonged resistance, Philip felt compelled to avoid a war with England and to yield somewhat to English pressure. … As things fell out, the growing divisions in the United Netherlands from 1578 onwards opened the way for Parma to reconquer the southern and eastern provinces. By the summer of 1585, with William the Silent assassinated (1584), and Antwerp fallen, the Spanish army looked within striking distance of final victory over the rebels. Just then Philip was also able to eliminate all danger of French intervention. Anjou’s death and the childlessness of Henry III left the Huguenot Henry of Navarre presumptive to the French throne. This drove the Catholic Guises to take arms and place their cause under the protection of Spain. Their victory would France the client of Spain. It would unite Catholic Europe under Spanish leadership.

R. B. Wernham (1961), ‘Elizabethan War Aims and Strategy’, in Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays presented to Sir J. E. Neale, ed. S. T. Bindoff et. al. pp 340-6, 368.

Henry of Navarre, who became King Henry IV, ended the Wars of Religion.

… Elizabeth could not allow Spain to destroy England’s old enemy France. Yet, equally, she could not afford to destroy her new enemy, Spain. For England could live … in a world of two Leviathans; she could not live where there was but one … A restored France, that was not matched by a strong France. For the same reasons, England must defend Dutch liberties, but would not fight for their independence. An independent Netherlands would be too weak to withstand a restored France and, if they became French too dangerous a preponderance. … but there seems no real doubt that her principal war aim , the principal cause of the conflict with Spain, was her determination to restore all the Netherlands provinces to their ancient liberties and privileges … and to secure the Netherlands Protestants ‘their liberty and exercise of the Christian religion.’ But nominally Spanish they must remain.

R. B. Wernham (1961), ‘Elizabethan War Aims and Strategy’, in Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays presented to Sir J. E. Neale, ed. S. T. Bindoff et. al. pp 340-6, 368.

Philip’s general, Parma, invaded France in 1589, but nine further years of war ended in 1598 without a clear victory. Increasingly, Elizabeth I sent troops and money to support the Dutch.

A Tudor diplomat of the mid-Sixteenth Century: Detail from Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’, reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the National Gallery.

The events that followed 1588-89 sealed the Anglo-French accord, which lasted as long as the Anglo-Spanish war. In France, too, hopes ran high as the accession of the Huguenot Henry of Navarre, following the assassination of Henry III, succeeded to the French throne and became Henry IV in 1589. By the Battle of Ivry in 1590, he became master of all of France in 1593, the first Bourbon monarch, but did not gain entrance to Paris and the Crown until he agreed to convert to Catholicism in 1594. By then, a third force had emerged when the politiques (‘politically inspired’) announced that it was immaterial which religion dominated the kingdom and that all that mattered was the wellbeing of the people. But the French Catholic party had meanwhile made an alliance with King Philip of Spain and threatened to plunge the country in blood if Henry remained a Protestant. Henry yielded for the sake of peace and to preserve his throne and gave up his Protestantism. By the Treaty of Vervins (1598), Philip II realised that his hopes of dominating France had been ended and acknowledged Henry IV. Also, in 1598, Henry had the Reformed faith legally recognised and granted freedom to the Huguenots to practice Reformed Christianity under the terms of the Edict of Nantes.

By the Edict, Protestants could worship privately in the houses of the nobility and publicly in the towns designated by the earlier Treaty of Poitiers, with one or two additions in each judicial district. In addition, they could hold synods from time to time and could enjoy equality within public education. In political terms, the country was effectively partitioned. The Huguenots were given political control over certain parts of the country, and the right to garrison a hundred fortresses garrisoned at royal expense, including the port of La Rochelle. They controlled the university there and at Nímes and Montauban; special mixed courts were set up in the Parlements of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Grenoble to try cases in which Protestants were involved. All offices in the state were to be open to Huguenots. At the same time, Roman Catholicism remained the official religion of the realm and retained by far the most considerable geographical portion of the nation. In the South, its main effect was to confirm the frontier along the Rhóne between Provence and Languedoc, but this time as a religious rather than a political one. The Edict was issued in April, leading to a truce with the Huguenots, and by the Treaty of Vervins (May 1598), Spain gave up its French conquests except for Cambrai. The status quo of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was restored, confirming the settlement between the two countries.

This compromise gave France religious and dynastic peace for nearly a century, at least on the surface. Still, in reality, it only lasted through to the mid-seventeenth century, resting on an increasingly precarious foundation. In 1604, Spain made peace with England, too. No land changed hands. However, the war in the Netherlands dragged on until 1609, when the Spanish regained the great port of Antwerp and Flanders. Mutual exhaustion then persuaded Philip III to accept a twelve-year truce with the rebels. The United Provinces became de facto independent of Spain. In France, Louis XIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1624-42), the Catholic Counter-Reformation reached its zenith. The Cardinal played havoc with Protestant liberties while flamboyant Baroque churches were built at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Martigues and in Italian-ruled Nice; sculptor and architect Pierre Puget created his masterpiece La Veille Charité in Marseilles.

Richelieu’s France.

From the mid-1630s, the Franco-Spanish conflict had been the central focus of the Thirty Years’ Wars (1618-48). The war had begun as a battle for supremacy within the Empire between Catholics and Protestants in which outside powers had taken sides according to their dominant faith. But Catholic France’s ‘sympathies’ with the Protestant territories like the United Provinces changed the composition of the struggle. The pragmatic Richelieu identified the breaking of the Habsburg ring of territories surrounding France’s land borders as key to the rise of French power, overruling the arguments of the pro-Catholic ‘dévot’ faction in France. Richelieu attempted to weaken the Habsburgs by subsidising the Protestant princes, but after the catastrophic defeat of Sweden in 1634, France entered the war directly against Spain.

Cardinal Mazarin, French diplomat and statesman; portrait attributed to Mathieu Le Nain

Despite its setback, Sweden emerged a victor from the war, mainly as France’s chief ally. However, it soon became apparent that Richelieu’s successor, Mazarin, had overrated both the weaknesses and the capacity of the French population to support the expensive burden of the war. As a result, Mazarin’s expectations of rapid victories against Spain were to be thwarted as the war dragged on for more than a decade.

The Thirty Years’ War ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 after the most savage and destructive warfare yet seen in Europe. Peace was signed in the Westphalian towns of Osnabrüch and Munster, where the Emperor negotiated separately with his Protestant and Catholic enemies. Yet whatever the convulsions of the long years of more or less general warfare, in the event, strikingly few changes were made to the political map of Europe. The treaties also signalled a final recognition that Catholic princes inspired by the Counter-Reformation would not be able to roll back entirely the gains that Protestantism had made in Europe since the early sixteenth century.

After 1648, the most significant change in the balance of power in western Europe was the emergence of France as the predominant state. Following the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, Spain lost all vestiges of its previously-held power and pre-eminent position. After the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV (1643-1715) pursued a policy of diplomatic aggression. But it was only in 1667 that he first went to war. Claiming parts of the Spanish Netherlands by virtue of his Habsburg wife’s rights as the elder sister of the new Spanish King, Carlos II, Louis’ troops quickly occupied the territory. Peace in 1668 gave France twelve fortresses along its borders with the Spanish Netherlands to add to Dunkirk, bought from England in 1662. Then, in 1672, the French king turned on his former Dutch allies. They were saved from defeat only by opening up the dykes as they had done a century earlier in their war of independence with the Spanish. Although the Dutch survived until peace in 1678 and even recovered Maastricht by the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678-9), it was their weak Spanish allies who paid the price, as the map below shows:

France’s Eastern Border, 1648 – 1684.

France took more border fortresses plus the France-Comté and remained in occupation of the Duchy of Lorraine. They also kept Freiburg on the Rhine (see the map on the right). Louis now adopted a complicated and essentially fraudulent legal procedure to claim sovereignty over many pockets of Imperial territory along his eastern frontier, whose status had been left ambiguous by the Peace of Westphalia. Using his ever-growing army to back up the decisions of the so-called chambres des réunions, Luxembourg was repeatedly besieged and threatened as Louis nibbled at one part and then another of the duchy before finally seizing the fortress itself in 1684. France was nearing the peak of its power and aggressively sought to acquire territories along its frontiers. Using the clerical jurisdiction of the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, granted to France definitively at Westphalia, Louis claimed political sovereignty over other places in their sees.

Similarly, in Alsace, French judges annulled the traditional rights of the German-speaking towns, seizing the great trading city of Strasbourg in 1681. The power of the French State was based on its vast population, which at twenty million far outstripped that of her neighbours. Numbers meant powers: they provided significant tax revenues and a rich source of recruits. Louis XIV’s able ministers built on the legacy of Richelieu and Mazarin to create a large standing army, able to intervene swiftly against less well-prepared and well-funded enemies over its borders or at home. Louis XIV’s France was seen as the arch-absolutist state throughout Europe. Secure within its frontiers, confident of his position at home, and encouraged by his fervently Catholic mistress Madame de Maintenon, Louis decided to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The French Huguenots suffered bitter persecution. Interestingly, given their own experiences of persecution by this time, the Jesuits were partly responsible for the Revocation. Louis’ action was the signal for hundreds of Protestants to reconvert to Catholicism and thousands of others to flee.

“Louis XIV Crushes the Fronde” by Gilles Guérin 1654

Louis’ personal, absolutist rule has been heavily criticised by historians, especially regarding its intolerance in matters of religion. Some believe that the Fronde, a series of civil wars between 1648 and 1653 occurring amid the Franco-Spanish War, caused Louis to be obsessed with hierarchy and unity; One God, One King, One Law. Therefore, he regarded religious nonconformity as not only blasphemous but also treasonable. Le Clerc provides us with an insight into the attitudes of contemporary Catholics toward the Huguenots:

If this hydra that your hand has strangled

Does not provide to your ‘vertu’ the worthiest of trophies

Then think of the cruel misfortunes that this sect has caused,

See how it has divided your subjects,

Consider in your heart its fatal practices.

How much blood poured forth, how many tragic stories of

The sacriliges of profaned altars,

Priests scorned and degraded, temples destroyed,

Blasphemies carried up to the sanctuary,

By all this see what it had been able to do.

To purge the state of an internal pestilence,

Louis saw that it was time to cut its roots.

He broke the edicts by which our recent kings

Allowed this serpent to speak

From which never ceased to come false maxims

Infecting minds and fomenting crimes.

Le Clerc, Le Triomphe de la Foy, 1686, trans. by J. B. Wolf, (1968) Louis XIV: Gollancz, p 395.

Another historian, Stoye, claimed that Revocation was a gesture which satisfied Louis’ highly developed sense of the ‘dramatic’ in kingship. Others blame the policy on his ministers for the state’s blundering into religious matters with such sweeping ‘gestures’. The consequences of this intolerance are also equally disputed. Was the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, though welcomed at the time by most of the French courtiers, nobility and gentry, a significant blunder that destroyed the French economy and united his enemies against himself, or have its effects been greatly exaggerated? Writing in 1911, the historian Saint-Simon made the following list of what he saw as the results the Revocation produced:

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, decided upon without the least excuse or any need, and the many proscriptions and declarations that followed it, was the outcome of a terrible plot which depopulated a quarter of the kingdom; ruined its commerce; weakened all parties; caused widespread pillage and condoned the dragonnades; authorised the tortures and torments in which thousands of innocent people of both sexes died; tore apart families, kinsmen against kinsmen, in order to seize their property and let them die of hunger; caused our manufacturors to emigrate so that foreign states flourished at the expense of ours; and gave to them the spectacle of such a remarkable people being proscribed, stripped of their possessions, exiled and forced to seek refuge far from their native land, without being guilty of any crime. … And to crown all these horrors it filled every province of the realm with perjurors and sacrileges … who dragged themselves to adore what they did not believe in.

Saint-Simon (1911), La Cour de Louis XIV: Paris, p 416.
When the Huguenots escaped religious persecution in France in the seventeenth century, many chose to set up home in Canterbury. They met for worship in the Cathedral’s crypt in a chapel where French language services continue to the present day.

Pierre Jurieu, a Huguenot exile in London, wrote a pamphlet in English, done out of the French in which he brought similar ‘charges’ against the French king in support of his belief that Louis’ absolutism had degenerated into despotism:

… Formerly the State entered everywhere, nought else was discussed of save the interests of the State, of the needs of the State, of the preservation of the State, of the service of the State; to speak so nowadays, would literally be accounted a crime of high treason. The King has taken place of the State … At the French Court there is now no other interest known than the King’s personal interest, that is to say, his grandeur and his glory: this is the idol to which are sacrificed princes, grandees, the little, families, provinces, cities and generally all. … This money (taxation) is only employed in fostering and serving the greatest self-love and the vastest pride thatever was. It is so vast an abyss that it has swallowed up not only the wealth of the whole kingdom, but that of all other States, if it could have seized it, as it endeavoured to …

He fosters in his Court and about him a crowd of flatterers, that enhance upon one another … he fills all Paris, all his palaces and the whole kingdom with his name and deeds … and all for having snapped from a weak and minor prince three or four provinces … for having desolated half his own kingdom by the persecution of Calvinism. Thus you see what the greatness of Louis the Great amounts to… and it is that enormous passion which devours so many riches and to which so many sacrifices are made.

The Sighs of France in slavery breathing after liberty, London, 1688-90, pamphlet 2.

Along with Pierre Jurieu, many thousands of Huguenots left France in the years following 1685 and made their way to London, Canterbury, Coventry, Edinburgh, Geneva, Germany, the Netherlands, Dublin and Pennsylvania. Others remained and either suffered persecution or fled to the mountains of central France to avoid it. Most of the Protestants who left France were professional people or skilled craftsmen in this period. As some historians have claimed, their exodus may not have crippled the French economy, but it was undoubtedly socially and economically significant. France lost many of its most intelligent and hardworking citizens due to this religious bigotry, a qualitative loss that is difficult to assess purely quantitatively. The beneficiaries of this exodus were the western Protestant nations and territories that received the entrepreneurial refugees, including England, Scotland and parts of Ireland. In 1690 the total population of the American colonies, roughly a quarter of a million, was almost exclusively British, but Protestants from the European continent had already begun to arrive including Huguenots and Mennonites, Dutch Calvinists and German Lutherans fleeing persecution in the Palatinate. By the middle of the eighteenth century, there were seventy thousand Germans in Pennsylvania alone and almost 200,000 in North America as a whole. Among them were not only Calvinists and Lutherans but Moravians, Dunkers and Schwenkfelders.

Economic activity increased in the seventeenth century overall, but not at its rate in the previous century. Nine-tenths of the population still worked on the land, hidebound by tradition, seldom looked beyond the village where they were born. Unable to improve productivity, most of them suffered from ill-health, frequent plagues and low life expectancy. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that human nature made life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Few people had a surplus income to spend on manufactured products. There was no identifiable middle-class throughout most of Europe, merely small élites in town and city communities, each with its own professional corporations. However, many historians argue that it would be wrong to think of the seventeenth century as a period of economic stagnation in Europe. Indeed, Marxist historians such as the late Eric Hobsbawm have argued that changes between 1600 and 1700 amounted to a fundamental solution to the difficulties which had previously stood in the way of the triumph of capitalism, with the English Civil War marking a turning point. Others have rejected this, but have pointed out significant changes. First, the century showed the final stages of the long process by which the centre of trade moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard, especially to Britain, France and the Dutch Republic, which experienced its golden age. A second of these significant economic shifts was the development of mercantilism. Political unification was a desirable part of these sea changes because of the burdens placed on royal exchequers by warfare, colonial expansion and bureaucracy.

Most European governments were chronically in debt – indeed, the century has been subtitled as the golden age for private enterprise in government finance. Spain provides a clear example of this with its repeated bankruptcies; by 1670, as a result of its impaired credit, it was paying over forty per cent interest on some of its loans. Not surprisingly, sovereigns became concerned about exploiting natural resources to acquire power. Whereas French ministers like Richelieu and Sully held the traditional view that trade was created by God to spread peace, unity and the Catholic religion, Colbert remarked that trade is the source of finance, and finance is the vital nerve of war. In this vein, the later seventeenth century witnessed a new phenomenon – wars motivated solely by commercial interests. Some historians see the century not so much as an age of consolidation or crisis but as an era of increasing religious toleration. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) is alleged to have revealed the uselessness of force to reconvert Europe to Catholicism and brought an end to the era of ‘religious wars’. One contemporary Englishman summed this up when he wrote:

Men of different opinions worship God in their own way. We are to respect them in their different manner of worship.

This ‘calming-down’ of religious fervour represented a significant change. No longer did the church, Catholic or Protestant, pursue extravagant witch-hunts or attack so fiercely new scientific viewpoints based on evidence and ‘Reason’. As Pascal remarked:

Religion draws into a unity the the scattered elements in our lives. It answers the questions which reason only can raise, and… it cannot be in opposition to reason or science because it includes yet transcends both.

However, sovereigns continued to dislike all signs of religious nonconformity within the state, clearly seen in Louis XIV’s actions against the Huguenots. The church was too vital an organisation to be left alone by them because it alone embraced the whole realm, also penetrating every district and village. Tolerance was only present where economic or political circumstances made it useful – and even then some historians argue it tended to be toleration of protestant by protestant rather than between catholic and protestant. Louis XIV’s relentless nibbling away at the Spanish Netherlands and at the Imperial fringe territories turned his neighbours against him. In 1686, Catholic and Protestant German princes formed the League of Augsburg to resist further French penetration into the Holy Roman Empire. Louis XIV’s Revocation of the rights of French Protestants in 1685 also pushed traditionally pro-French, but firmly Protestant Sweden into the League along with Catholic Austria, Bavaria and Spain. France was already feeling the strain of enormous military expenditure even before the outbreak of the Nine Years’ War in 1688 when Louis XIV sent his troops into the Rhineland to secure his authority there. The war cost the country dear. Famine and peasant discontent compounded the failure of the French armies to achieve victory. Instead, the improved forces of the German princes, backed by Anglo-Dutch troops and financial power, wore France down.

With the French committed to their assault on the Rhineland, the Dutch could spare troops to assist William of Orange to gain the British Crown, and the anti-French coalition was thereby greatly strengthened. On the other hand, as the French threat declined, rivalries between the allied countries grew. Although the Nine Years’ War soon reached a stalemate, it took many years before Louis XIV was prepared to make sufficient concessions to buy peace from his enemies. Finally, in 1696, he gave up some areas in southern France around Nice to Savoy, in effect admitting that the duchy of Savoy could not be made into a French satellite state. By the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697), France returned Lorraine to her duke, but France retained effective military control with the duchy surrounded by French territory. However, both Flanders and Luxembourg were returned to Spain (as was occupied Catalonia), probably because Louis was already manoeuvring for Madrid’s favour over who would succeed to the Spanish throne when Carlos II died. Other parts of Imperial territory, including a section of the Palatinate, were also given up, though France kept Alsace and Strasbourg. A vital cause of the war after 1688 was Louis XIV’s determination to dominate the critical clerical electorates in the triangle between Trier, Cologne and Mainz. This would have made France dominant along the vital trade arteries along the Rhine and Main.

Linguistic Change & the Rise of Protestantism in Southern France:

In the sixteenth century, two revolutions in mental attitudes, two currents of cultural change, arose in Mediterranean France. The first was the linguistic revolution, represented by the earliest diffusion of the French language (1450-1590). It took possession of the cities, towns and large villages, the privileged orders and the urban bourgeoisie, but it only infiltrated the highest levels of rural society. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is of more than simply a philological interest because it serves to delimit, by the first half of the sixteenth century, two contrasting geographical and cultural areas. To the region’s east were places of rapid linguistic penetration and precocious bilingualism. As early as 1450, the langue d’oil of the notables contrasted sharply with Romance dialects still spoken by ordinary people. This zone corresponds precisely with the Rhóne Valley and, more generally, with the triangle formed by the Rhóne, the Cévennes and the Mediterranean – by Valence, Montpellier and Arles. The breach in the old linguistic frontier southward along the Rhóne was contained by maritime Provence and especially by western Languedoc and eastern Aquitaine, all of which resisted the incursions of the French language for one or two generations more (up to about 1530-50). These regions were all cultural ‘backwaters’ and were destined to remain so for a long time following. As late as 1570, according to statistics from original signatures, or 1680-86, according to Maggiolo’s charts, the ‘level of culture’ declined progressively, region by region, as the traveller advanced from the Bas-Rhóne to the Haute-Garonne.

A study of the frequency of signatures, from east to west, indicates that in 1575 only 25% of the artisans at Montpellier were illiterate compared to 33% at Narbonne. Moreover, the cultural ‘level’ was far superior at Montpellier, where most ‘literate’ artisans could write their full names. At the same time, half the people in this category at Narbonne signed with just their initials. The same was true of the peasants. About 1575, a more considerable minority could sign their own names at Montpellier than Narbonne. At Montpellier, French was generally used by 1490; at Narbonne, not until later. Even more significant was the linguistic lag between the Rhóne Valley and Bas-Languedoc on the one hand and the Massif Central on the other. On the siliceous highlands of the latter region were to be found the veritable sanctuaries of the langue d’oc, which remained practically inviolate up to the beginning of the seventeenth century. This was true of the Rouergue, for example, and also of the mountains of Saint-Pons. These were the last enclaves of the langue d’oc dialect and, at the same time, the last refuge of total illiteracy, being often totally without schools and schoolmasters. The figures on the frequency of signatures in 1595, 1643 and 1737 demonstrate the fact conclusively. There followed the indomitable occitanisme of the ancient mountain areas due to this illiteracy. There can be little doubt that mass literacy impeded the spread of the French language, which was transmitted through its written forms.

The Wars of Religion in the Region of Languedoc and Provence:

On the ground, the dominant issue became that of religious difference. Protestantism had achieved a firm foothold in Languedoc, especially among the lower orders in the provincial towns. Even before Luther, the Waldensian or Vaudois sect – branded as heretical within Catholicism – had put down roots in the Luberon, where feudal landlords had encouraged them to repopulate the countryside after the Black Death. The Waldensian movement was brutally put down in April 1545, when Vaudois villages were pillaged and burned and down, and their populations massacred. However, this was only the opening salvo of the religious violence that really kicked in when French Calvinism, or the Huguenot movement, spread throughout Languedoc and the rest of France in the 1550s. There were Protestant enclaves in Orange, Haute Provence and the Luberon, but the primary seedbed of the new faith lay west of the Rhóne in Nímes, where three-quarters of the population became Huguenot. The 1560s saw atrocities on both sides of the religious divide. Most of the Huguenots of Orange were massacred in 1563: in reprisal, the Baron des Adrets who had converted from Catholicism only a year before, went on the rampage; he specialised in throwing Catholic prisoners from the top of the nearest castle. However, two years later, he reconverted and retired to his family estate.

In the sharply contrasted cultural area of the Midi, the second intellectual revolution of the century, the Reformation, took root. It was more profound than the linguistic revolution, penetrating the level of peasant consciousness. Yet, it offered no significant geographic originality concerning the latter. The distribution of places of origin of the Protestant émigrés to Geneva in 1550, the inquest into the crime of heresy launched in the name of the Parlement of Toulouse in 1560, and finally, the distribution of Huguenots at the time of the civil wars strongly underline permanent features of intellectual geography. The chosen zone of early Protestantism 1550-60 was the same as the same Rhóne – Cévennes – Bas-Languedoc triangle. The ‘ground’ there had been prepared by the privileged penetration of the French language in the century beforehand and delimited through the development of diverse cultural exchanges in the centuries following. The nerve centres were Romans, Uzés, Alés, Nímes, and Montpellier. On the left bank of the Rhóne was the valley of Durance, where the Waldensians began, in 1535, to distribute their Bibles and catechisms, shields of faith, anatomies of dogma and similar books, and above small psalters… rhymed, bound, gilded and ruled. Throughout the Middle Ages the demand for religious reform had persisted; the ideal of primitive Christianity that lay behind that demand, if it varied in detail from time to time and place to place, remained essentially the same. Over four centuries, from the twelfth to the sixteenth, from the Waldensians through to the Franciscans and the Anabaptists, groups of men wandered through the land, living a life of poverty and simplicity in imitation of the apostles and preaching to those among the laity who felt a spiritual vacuum.

When, in the thirteenth century, the Franciscan and Dominican orders were created, they had been quite consciously modelled on the apostolic life. Without the attempts to realise the ideal of primitive Christianity within the framework of the institutionalised church, the movement of dissent would undoubtedly have been far more significant than it was. Yet these attempts were never wholly successful. Again and again, the preaching monks and friars withdrew behind their monastery walls or else abandoned the pursuit of holiness for that of political influence. Again and again, the reforming orders devoted initially to apostolic poverty ended by acquiring great wealth. And whenever that happened, some dissenting or heretical preachers came forward to fill that vacuum.

On the right bank of the Rhóne, it was primarily the valleys of the Cévennes and a zone of itinerant ministers, artisans’ workshops and one-room schools in the Haute-Hérault, Vidourle, and the two Gardons (Gardon d’Alés and Gardon d’Anduzé). The lists of foreigners (estrangiés) in Geneva and their provenance testify, beginning in 1549, to the presence of clusters of rural Protestantism in the broken foothills of the Cévennes. In this region, by 1556, the ministers were preaching openly, baptising and celebrating Holy Communion. In this region, too, in 1560, peasants and craftsmen stormed convents, cut the monks’ copes into doublets and banners, laying ambush for papal commissioners, or equeters, while their wives flung sacks of ashes into the eyes of the priors and parish priests. It was here, finally, in the large villages that the Protestant nuclei, composed of intellectuals (notaries, judges and doctors) and artisans (chaussatiers who cut the uniforms for Condé’s army, surgeons, blacksmiths, and cobblers), embraced Calvinistic Protestantism and propagated it in the surrounding rural parishes.

In 1560, armed Huguenots of Gignac, of both sexes and belonging to the lower orders of society already mentioned, formed a psalm-singing procession in ranks of three to escort the minister to preach a sermon in the nearby village of Saint-André. The petit-bourgeois Calvinists strove to win over the peasantry, whether by peaceful conversion or force of arms. Beyond the Hérault, however, the picture was different in the whole of western Languedoc. In addition, the more backward mountains of the Sidobre, the Espinouse, the Montagne Noire and the Rouergue were significantly different from the industrious Cévennes to the east. The cultural lethargy evidenced in these regions as far back as 1500 was conducive to religious conservatism. In the mountains, the nuclei of Calvinist artisans had little influence on the mass of the peasantry, who rejected the Bible and preferred sorcerers to ministers.

In the lowlands, the small Huguenot communities of Béziers were isolated, and by 1568 they had been literally swallowed up by the papist majority. Finally, in the extreme western part of Languedoc, the large city of Toulouse was represented by fewer refugees at Geneva in c. 1550 than the tiny Norman town of Coutances, which was also much further away. The Huguenot party of Toulouse was, for its part, easily crushed in the Spring of 1562 by far superior Catholic forces led by Parlement, nobility and regular troops, who upended the booksellers’ stalls and threw their wares into the street. Therefore, an analysis by region throws us back to the privileged area of the sixteenth-century ‘enlightenment’ regarding linguistic knowledge and religious innovations. It leads us back, in short, to the great Rhóne-Cévennes-Languedoc triangle. There, we can assess the hold of early Calvinism on the peasant masses in the context of the cultural and social cross-currents of the day. The Reformation and the civil and religious wars made manifest contrasts intensified by the social and economic pressures of the century. To understand this in detail, we need to consider the evidence from individual cities, towns and villages and their very different degrees of receptivity to the new ideas of the Protestant Reformation.

In brief, the three different milieus or sociocultural classes were the dominant class; landowners, merchants and office-holders; secondly, the artisan class, particularly the cloth workers; and finally, the peasants and farmers. They correspond, in other terms, to the service and direction of society (the tertiary sector), activities of transformation (the secondary sector) and to the crude production of the soil (the primary industry). We need to examine how the different milieus, especially the peasant milieu, reacted to each other and responded to the cultural shock produced by the Calvinist revolution.

Huguenot Carders and Papist Peasants:

Ladurie found his primary source of evidence regarding the growth of Calvinism in a document called the Roll of those present at the Calvinist assemblies. Compiled by the Catholic authorities at Montpellier in November 1550, it supplies the names of 817 individuals and indicates the professions of 561. It was not simply a sample but constituted a census of the Protestant population. At the top of the list of pioneering Huguenots were members of the artisan classes, by far the largest contingent, represented by 132 textile workers. Of these, forty-two were wool carders who were the active ‘leaven’ of the Reformation. A Catholic chronicler characterised the ‘sticky-handed’ carders with penetrating hatred:

The first Calvinist rubbish succeeded little by little in infecting with that doctrine certain tradesmen, chiefly wool carders and tenterers (‘drapeurs-drapans’) encountered in the wineshops, who drunkenly memorised the words and music of Béze and Marot and popularised that new air, ‘Lighten thine heart and open thine ears, …’

Quoted in Ladurie, p. 158.

After the forty-two carders, among the Huguenots in the textile trades, came forty-one tailors or hosiers, twenty-five weavers, five ropemakers, five milliners, nine cloth-shearers and four dyers as well as cotton-spinners, dressmakers, tapestry-makers, canabassiers (hemp weavers), hatters and so on. Next in order came the leather trades (which played the role of catalyst among the Huguenot peasantry of the Cévennes). These accounted for fifty-eight names on the Calvinist list of 1560, thirty-three of whom were cobblers and the rest harness makers, curriers, blanquiers (tawers), glovers, furriers and saddlers. Finally, the metal trades – blacksmiths and cutters – contributed forty-five Huguenots to the list. If the other trades are included, 387 craftsmen or shopkeepers among the 561 Huguenots counted in 1560. It was a classic structure; the perennial sans-culotte dissent of the old urban centres was sometimes heretical, at other times revolutionary, but always recruited at the market stalls and workshops. Thus, the artisan contingent were the foot soldiers of the movement. The Huguenot leadership in 1560 came from the bourgeois intelligentsia and the petit-bourgeoisie, broadly represented at the assemblies of that year. Huguenots were distributed among the advocates, notaries, apothecaries, registrars, solicitors, bailiffs, and clerks from the medical and legal professions. These learned professions contributed eighty-seven individuals to those listed in 1560, or fifteen per cent of all the Huguenots whose occupations are known, a higher proportion, without a doubt, more than in the whole population. The twenty-four merchants listed, and the nobles and the bourgeois of the Saint-Firmin quarter also sent a few dozen delegates to the Calvinist assemblies. More than one Morano notable was present among these rich Huguenots, his complex soul prone to multiple abjurations. Then, in about 1560, old Catelan came out simultaneously, oblivious to the contradictions, in favour of Jewish circumcision, the Catholic cult of the Virgin, and adherence to Calvinist assemblies!

The religious behaviour of peasants and farm labourers from Montpellier, who constituted a fifth of the population, who were even more numerous on the outskirts of the town and in the poorer quarters, set them apart from the urban classes, especially from the artisans. In around 1560, the latter were sympathetic to the Protestant Reformation almost to a man, whereas the peasant masses, on the contrary, remained refractory and often hostile to it. Examining the 1560 list of Protestants and their occupations, the number of peasants and farm labourers was insignificant. If they had been won over to the Reformation in the same proportion as the other social groups, there would have been well over a hundred of them, perhaps as many as a hundred and twenty, among the 561 Huguenots of known occupation. However, Ladurie counted only twenty-seven ‘cultivators’ – i.e. peasants or day labourers – listed, less than five per cent of the total. These included tenants of the big farms on the plain – wealthy, enlightened entrepreneurs who came the closest, in the rural milieu, to sharing the townsman’s way of thinking. But such avant-garde peasants were still the exception, a drop in the ocean of rural conservatism. The rural proletariat, for its part, remained practically impervious to the Protestant Reformation. Only two travailleurs de terre were listed among the 817 Huguenots of 1560. In these ways, the ideological choices were radically divergent. In the same town, within the same community, there was a complete divorce between the agricultural element on the one hand and the artisan, intellectual, and bourgeois elements on the other. At Béziers, too, these different structures were fully operative. From a social point of view, the Reformation remained circumscribed to the urban and artisan classes from which it sprang. It did not migrate and did not spill over into the peasant masses, who remained steadfast in their Catholic beliefs.

The statistics were confirmed by popular demonstrations. In 1561 the peasants of Montpellier proclaimed these beliefs as a body in opposition to the Calvinist citizenry of a working-class or bourgeois stamp. On the 4th and 11th of May, “the cultivators of the land” and their wives formed processions from the city’s poorer quarters, placing their daughters, whose loosened hair fell to their shoulders (le poil descouvert et pendant), in the front ranks. The rustics were ostensibly distributing the holy bread, but under their cloaks were hidden daggers and sacks of stones reserved for the Huguenots. A Calvinist historian also reported drunks and prostitutes among the crowd, all demanding the mass and the dance and were crying, “we shall dance despite the Huguenots.” They wanted to celebrate the popular May rites, the ancient Maias of medieval Languedoc folklore, featuring the “Feast of the Ass,” burlesque singing, ribald jokes, dances, flowers and masquerades. The Huguenots, in their puritanical zeal, had forbidden these festivities and outlawed public dancing. For the peasants of Montpellier, the sense of their revolt was clear. It irritated Calvin in his Genevan letters. Two worlds and two cultures literally came face to face. On one side was an agrarian society, lodged in the city like some foreign body, holding to the old Catholic devotions, and demanding in its life of poverty and squalor, the right to allow the instincts free reign in dancing and joi de vivre on the traditional feast days. On the other was the urban artisan class, Huguenot in faith and already extolling a worldly asceticism, that ethic of self-denial which, thanks to Calvin and the later Puritans and Jansenists, would little by little come to be accepted as a norm by the petit bourgeoisie of modern times, suppressing and sublimating their more primitive instincts.

Between town and country, and especially between peasants and artisans, religious differences from the beginning reveal a cultural and moral opposition which is immediately evident in the literacy statistics. As to method: in the records of the sixteenth-century notaries, it is possible to distinguish between three major categories of signatures. First, there are the authentic signatures, fully spelt out. Sometimes they are fluent, cursive, with a modern flourish. Sometimes they are halting, composed of lowercase letters detached from one another. In extreme cases, they are disjointed capitals, awkwardly juxtaposed; for example, I. VESI (Jean Voisin). There is no question that these variants are all genuine signatures furnishing men’s names in their complete form. In the second, more primitive category, the signature consists of a person’s initials, either in uppercase capital letters, typically separated, joined, combined in a ‘mark’ or reduced to a single initial. The third category was a simple mark in the form of a sign, evidence of complete illiteracy. It might be geometric in shape or a ‘trade mark’; for example, an artisan might make his mark with a hammer, while a peasant might make a conical ploughshare (reille) or a rake. The mark was often a cross or, at the lowest level, a meaningless scrawl or blot of ink. Three degrees, then – simple signs, initials and proper signatures – marked the transition from complete illiteracy to an elementary level of culture. At Montpellier, between 1570-75, the notaries began to register personal signatures, which were then affixed to their deeds in meaningful constellations.

Stonemasons often belonged to the untutored category; the carders, for the most part, belonged to the group of literate artisans who signed their full names. They were particularly receptive to heresy, one of the fruits of education. The peasants, by contrast, seemed as allergic to culture as they were to the Reformation and the rudiments of lay learning as they were to the revival of sacred knowledge. These trends were fully confirmed by ecclesiastical estate records. From 1570, all the parties to the canons’ contracts signed their names or affixed their marks. These documents are full of agricultural proletarians, who were much more numerous than they were among the clientele of the notaries. In the town of Narbonne, nine out of ten rural proletarians were still spiritual strangers to the civilisations of the written word, strangers to the prestige and profits it wrought, and strangers, too, to the new ideas generated in the sixteenth century by the return to the religion of the scriptures. Between 1550 and 1600, the countryside fiercely rejected the written word.

Among the artisan guilds, the most enlightened were those of the butchers and apothecaries, which were very close to the bourgeoisie. But the innkeepers, the tailors, the carders, and the textile tradesmen also included men with schooling. In the geographical distribution of signatures in the building trades, the opposition between town and country is repeated. The same was true of the metal trades: the illiterate village blacksmith made a sign of a hammer as opposed to a whole intellectual élite of urban coppersmiths, martinayres (‘hammermen’), espaziers (‘swordmakers’), pewterers and halberd-makers who signed their full names with a flourish. A receptivity to culture and a desire to acquire it set the active artisans of the urban societies far above the backward peasantry. It linked them to the bourgeoisie and the merchants, the best-educated group of all, who was ninety-eight per cent literate. This distinguished the towns from the countryside in the hearts of the ancient cities themselves. On the other hand, schoolmasters were relatively rare in rural areas, and classes had to be paid for. Only a tiny minority of cultivators and even fewer farmworkers regularly sent their children to school. The others abstained, either for lack of money or lack of ambition. Cultural poverty was therefore connected to material poverty. The urban environment, on the other hand, with its accumulation of wealth, provided profit opportunities, a desire for gain and a craving for culture. The growing towns and cities of prosperous artisans and merchants provided Calvinism and its offshoots with their natural social base.

Town v Country in the Cévennes:

The opposition between town and country often constituted a decisive and lasting obstacle to the spread of the Reformation. This was true at Béziers and Montpellier in 1560 and again in 1590-1600. Still, the barrier was not necessarily insurmountable. It represented only a first ‘moment’ or stage in spreading ideas. In certain regions, it was transcended when the Huguenots of the small towns, the Calvinist artisans, finally broke through the peasant milieu and succeeded in swinging the rural masses into the Protestant camp. This is what happened in the Cévennes, such an unlikely case that the ‘deputy’ leader of Calvinism in Geneva, Théodore Béza himself, marvelled at it in relating the evangelisation of the region during the reign of Henry II:

It was at this time that the natives of the mountains of Cévennes (a harsh, inhospitable country if ever there was one in France, and that would seem the least capable of receiving the Gospel on account of the rudeness of spirit of the inhabitants), nevertheless received the Truth with marvellous ardour…

“Almost all the common people”, he wrote, eventually embraced Calvinism. In fact, the common people of the Cévennes, artisans and peasants as one, manifested such great zeal in felling crosses and burning idols that in 1561 Calvin himself had to censure these mountain Huguenots, who were too revolutionary for his taste. Itinerant ministers had become a familiar sight in the valleys of the Gardons by 1560, but not because of an ancient heretical tradition, a sort of leaven for the new heresies. Neither the Catharist nor the Waldensian movements played an essential role in the mountain valleys of the Cévennes in the Middle Ages. However, the Waldensians of the Durance did play a significant role, in about 1530, as a ‘relay’ in the direction of the Cévennes. The conversion of the area itself in the 1560s was primarily the conversion of the artisans, who were more influential and more numerous there than elsewhere. The social structure worked in favour of a process of osmosis with the peasant world. The craftsmen, especially the leather workers, planted the seeds of the Huguenot Reformation in the very heart of the countryside.

Turning to the lists of refugees at Geneva in 1549-60, Ladurie found that many of these were craftsmen, with shoemakers being in the lead. Among the exiles from Nímes, Annonay, and Aubenas, situated at the mouths of the valleys of the Cévennes, the cobblers were already the largest of the Huguenot trades. But it was at the heads of these valleys that hosted the heart of the Calvinist cause, in the regions of Alés and Vigan, which would later become Camisard redoubts. Here, the leather trades, especially the cobblers, were the most numerous; in 1549-60, they represented most of the local exiles at Geneva. Out of forty-seven refugees from the Cévennes whose occupations are known – alongside weavers, hosiers, peasants, doctors, booksellers and bakers – twenty-four were members of the leather trades (of whom twenty-two were cobblers), equal to just over half the total.

This phenomenon was peculiar to that triangle of Calvinist highlands formed by Mene, Alés and Ganges and is encountered nowhere else. Artisans and cobblers, the irreplaceable auxiliaries of the Calvinist ministers, helped sow the seeds of Reformation in the remote villages of the Cévennes, conferring particular importance on the rural and semi-rural artisan class. If the Huguenot artisans and cobblers were especially numerous in the first emigration from the Cévennes, 1549-60, it was simply because they formed an active, compact group amid a mountain population with roots deep in the soil. Ladurie examined the occupational structure of Ganges, a large village of the Cévennes already secretly Calvinist. It was a centre of industry where nearly half of the notaries’ clientele were artisans engaged in the principal trades of transformation – leather, textiles, wood and iron. The leather traders – tanners and cobblers – were at the head of this group with twenty-four per cent, followed by textiles – carders, drapers, weavers and tailors – constituting nearly twenty per cent. Ironworkers and woodworkers accounted for just five per cent. This compact artisan group was clearly dominated by an aristocracy of tanners, Calvinist businessmen with fine Old Testament names who little by little gained control of the hide and leather market from the mountains to the coast. Their seventeenth-century successors, rich carriers with fortunes, would send their sons to Paris to study, the supreme mark of social distinction. By the generation of 1560, the influence of the craftsmen of the Ganges over the farm labourers of the outskirts and the peasants of the large tenant farms appears to have been decisive in their conversion to Calvinism. In 1580, only four Catholic families were left in a community numbering five hundred hearths. Therefore, it is not surprising that the social structure of the Genevan exiles mirrors in exaggerated form the social structure of the Cévennes towns and villages. In many of these towns and villages in the mid-sixteenth century, a revolutionary artisan class held almost undisputed ideological sway over the surrounding peasant masses.

In this way, Ladurie maintains that a ‘social circuit’ was put into effect by Calvinist ideas spreading rapidly from Geneva to Lyons to Languedoc, carried by the ministers, students, Bible peddlers and mule drivers of the Rhóne. They penetrated the workshops of weavers and wool carders:

In the Cévennes, where the cobblers read their Bibles at their benches, they germinated amid the filth of the work stalls and the stench of the tanneries and in the shops, too, whence once there issued cries of “There goes Jean Blanc” when a priest passed by bearing the Host.

Ladurie, p 167.

In the towns subjacent to the Cévennes, in 1561, the mass of the citizen peasantry was also ‘contaminated’, though those to the west, in Provence, remained decidedly hostile to Calvinism. A further stage remained: the integral permeation of the peasantry as a whole. At the end of its course, the Huguenot Reformation had reached the gates of the big farmsteads of the Cévennes. In the sixteenth century, when the demographic expansion was just underway and had not yet led to its dismemberment, a farmstead still consisted of a single unit, an isolated farmstead, inhabited by an extended family or ‘clan’ – fréreche – bearing the same name. By 1560, many of these family farmsteads adhered, en bloc, “to the true Religion, reformed according to the Word of God and the Holy Gospel.” They refused to pay tithes to priors when they came to collect, telling them that they would pay the tithe to the people of the Holy Gospel and not to priors from whom one has never received… an edifying doctrine. By these ways and means, the Reformation, propagated at the start by the democratic artisan class of the towns, infiltrated itself in its final phase into the authoritarian and patriarchal structures of the outer Cévennes and the valleys below.

Something of the sort also occurred on the great estates in the mountains. By 1555 Calvinist farm managers were putting pressure on their dependents to adopt the reformed faith. In default of decent wages, the paterfamilias attended, without illusions, to his people’s salvation. Bible in hand, he exhorted them “to fear God, to practice virtue, to avoid vice.” By force of homilies and hard bread, he inculcated the bourgeois thrift and worldly asceticism that led to social advancement. Olivier de Serres, himself a Huguenot estate manager, painted a cruel portrait of the Calvinist gentlemen farmer in the Vivarais region of the Cévennes during the period 1560-1600 in a chapter of his Théatre d’agriculture. Published between 1600 and 1675, the nineteen editions acquainted the rest of France with the astonishing ‘model’ of a farmer-entrepreneur initiated, thanks to the Huguenot ethic, to the earliest spirit of capitalism. In the Calvinist Cévennes, both among the artisan classes of the towns, and the farming, wine-growing democracies of the outskirts, the peasant or capitalistic oligarchies of the isolated farmsteads, and the rural proletariat, the conquest of souls by physical pressure or persuasion was already completed by about 1570-90. By the close of the century, there remained no more than one or two Catholic families in many parishes. Peasant characteristics were themselves affected by these mass conversions. In communities like the village of Ganges (1570-1600), ministers and elders organised the policing of morals in a pitiless manner (in imitation of Calvin’s Geneva), with informers, fines, admonitions, and humiliating public confessions and reparations. The ‘consistories’ posted spies on the ramparts and poked into gardens, barnyards and even private chambers. In the deliberations of these consistories, the same monotonous denunciations were endlessly repeated:

A certain man had “debauched, fornicated, slept in the bed” of a certain woman. … The “village whores” were set upon. The mass, dancing, laughter, bowling and card playing, too long or too intimate betrothals, the debaucheries of serving-girls, abortion, … prenuptual pregnancies, and gypsy witchcraft all were proscribed without distinction, warily in the case of nobles, savagely in the case of the rural populace. Only usury and human exploitation – both flourishing in the Cévennes at the close of the century – were spared the thunderbolts of the consistory. Not once in fifteen years did the consistory of Ganges censure a userer, a tanner entrepreneur, or a farm manager for being too greedy with his debtors or workers.

Ladurie, pp. 170-71.

Of course, the social theories of Calvinism across early modern Europe have been the subject of much debate among historians, but its practice in the South of France around 1590 leaves little room for doubt. It was the formal restriction of pleasure and the tacit tolerance of usury; it was asceticism by proclamation, the creation of a new kind of proto-capitalist man with a remodelled ‘puritan’ personality:

A new man had emerged from the Huguenot crucible; his religion was purged of magical rites, his libido was repressed, and he was a believer in bourgeois thrift and Christian liberty.

Ladurie, p. 171.
Fanatics of the Cévennes & Effects of the Revocation in the South:

By the end of the seventeenth century, the destiny of Mediterranean France had become bound up with that of the country as a whole. Economically, it was an essential source of fruit, olive oil, wine, textiles and taxes, and a builder of ships for royal wars. The ‘Midi’ was drained of funds and, at the same time, kept firmly in line by the increasingly centralised State and absolutist rule of Louis XIV. When restless Marseilles dared to set up a rebel council in 1658, the ‘Sun King’ turned the town’s cannons on itself and built an additional fort primarily to keep an eye on its unruly citizens. The port of Toulon was expanded and turned into the main base of the Mediterranean fleet, busy waging war against the Spanish. Louis’ military architect Vauban added his characteristic star-shaped coastal defences to Toulon and Antibes.

After 1680, with the economy collapsing and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes drawing near, the revolts changes sides and significance. Henceforth, the regions with Catholic majorities remained calm for the most part. Brittany was quiescent after 1675, Bordeaux after 1676, and the area of Boulogne after 1663. This prudent behaviour was to continue, despite difficult times, up to the end of Louis XIV’s reign. In Languedoc, the leading role passed from one mountain range to the next – from the papist Vivarais to the Huguenot Cévennes. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 threw France into further religious and civil strife. In the South, it led to renewed massacres of Protestants in Nímes and Arles; Protestant churches were demolished, and schools closed. The main effect was to deprive Nímes and Uzés of their industrious Huguenot manufacturers, who joined the streams of refugees and emigrated in their thousands. A few converted and stayed on to make silk and the blue linen ‘de Nímes’ that the transatlantic merchants and traders called ‘denim’. With fifty thousand inhabitants, Nímes had become one of the great manufacturing towns of France by the end of the seventeenth century. The Catholic petty-bourgeois of Nímes knew that the suppression of Protestantism contributed to their own ruin and that of their native city on account of the exodus of the moneyed Huguenots and the flight of capital. But they were, above all else, faithful believers. For that reason, they were captivated by the act of the ‘divine right’ king and the mass ‘recantation’ of the Huguenot communities (which they knew, however, was insincere). One of them, a notary named Borrély, remarked in his private journal that:

Whatever people say, there is something of divine miracle in this. … The distress is great, but our great king has so many affairs to handle it is proper to make a sacrifice.”

Ladurie, p. 270.

He wrote this at a time when a Protestant coalition was threatening in 1689 when he had to hand over his share of the six million in taxes for the region. He became an exemplary taxpayer whose mind was on anything but revolt. French Catholicism had been restive, but everything suggests that the Catholics returned to the ranks in 1685, dazzled by the Revocation. The natural counterpart to growing Catholic moderation was the Huguenot uprisings. The Protestants had remained calm throughout the century, but they became bellicose again at its close for obvious reasons. The Protestant peasants, like everybody else, suffered from the economic depression, the depression of trade, so deadly in the Cévennes, and the epidemics. In 1685, the year of the Revocation, the Hautes-Cévannes were short of chestnuts and wheat, and people were forced to subsist on acorns and grass. For the Huguenots, these misfortunes were aggravated by religious oppression. This particular oppression was, from the beginning, far more than just an affair of state. It also incarnated the spirit of revenge of a Languedocian church, enriched, up to the time of Colbert, by the increase of tithe income.

The persecution of the Huguenots had been encouraged and orchestrated from Versailles, but it was directed on the spot by the powerful bishops’ ‘lobby’ that turned the provincial assembly into a war machine against the Calvinists. The Estates of Languedoc, between 1661 and 1680, multiplied anti-Protestant pressures and measures; Protestant ‘consuls’ were hounded from the fiscal assemblies of the civil dioceses and they demanded ‘that one smash the head and tear out the heart’ of the Huguenot monster by expelling the last of the Protestants from the city of Privas; they commanded that the city consuls and professional syndics be wholly Catholic; they petitioned the king, successfully, to absorb the ‘chamber of the Edict’, the last judicial saviour of the Calvinists into the comprehensively Catholic Parlement of Toulouse; they demanded the suppression of the Protestant academy, already transferred to Pulyaurens; they succeeded in having several temples razed to the ground; they harassed the ministers; finally, with the Revocation and the destruction of heresy, they voted, as a mark of their gratitude to the king, the erection of an equestrian statue weighing 450 hundredweight.

The Huguenots, then, were face-to-face with a concerted campaign of unlimited oppression engineered by the central authorities and the local clergy, by the intendant and the Estates, and by the royal administration and the hierarchical society of the three orders embodied in the provincial assembly. Impoverished to the same extent as the papists by the crisis and the taxes and tormented by the tithe they were forced to pay, whereas the Catholic peasants had by now resigned themselves to this particular charge, heavy though it was. They were, in addition, the target of a unique campaign aimed at eradicating Calvinism. In the Huguenot Cévennes, the reformed religion represented the total culture of the region, so the policy of eradicating it was comparable to an act of genocide. As was done in 1685, to destroy the religion was to compromise the culture since it meant seriously disturbing the population’s psychic and emotional equilibrium and daily life. The all-embracing character of Calvinism in the Cévennes was so complete that it succeeded in entirely uprooting the ancient folklore, something unique in France. In that region, it was no longer possible to hear the old songs, some of which were older than the advent of the Huguenot religion. They disappeared in favour of the psalms that the older people sang to babies in their cradles. The psalter of Marot and Théodore Béza was the local source of a second culture, popular and musical in nature. By 1659, in towns with many Calvinists, the resounding strains of Marot’s psalms were heard in the mouths of artisans and, in the country districts, in the mouths of the peasants, whereas the Catholics remained mute or sang only ribald drinking songs.

The French langue d’oil culture itself penetrated the langue d’oc region of the Cévennes in the seventeenth century from the peasant’s earliest childhood, almost exclusively through the agency of the Bible and the Protestant texts, The ABC of Christians, Catechisms of Calvin and Béza, and Mirror of Youth, which children had to learn by heart. It was a strange land where French, in contrast to the maternal langue d’oc was regarded almost as the holy tongue and, in extreme cases, as proof of divine inspiration. The religious mystics of the Cévennes, when they spoke en langues – that is, in a foreign language under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – expressed themselves fluently in French, to the amazement of the dialect-speaking populace. In a milieu such as this, the Revocation and the subsequent attempt to uproot Protestantism entirely – its teachings, preachings, psalms and Bibles – amounted to an enforced “deculturation.” The traumatisation of a people deprived of its ministers, pastors and elders, tormented by a sense of guilt (for having accepted the Revocation and temporarily repudiated its faith), and oppressed, into the bargain, by hard times and taxes was so severe that it engendered authentic, documented cases of anxiety, neurosis and even hysteria, which eventually turned into bloody fanaticism. All of these effects stupefied the authorities.

The Huguenot riposte began in 1688-89 and culminated with the Camisards. This was more than a purely religious struggle from the start, for it was also accompanied by certain political and social overtones. The programme of Miremont, the rebel marquis who anticipated the insurrection of the Cévennes as early as 1689, aimed to exploit not only the Protestants’ despair but also the universal discontent of subjects of both faiths, the classic antitax reflex. He demanded the abolition of stamped paper and intolerable taxes and the destruction of customs bureaus and tax offices. In this, he summed up all the recriminations, at the same time liberal and retrograde, formulated the same year in a pro-Huguenot pamphlet:

The splendour of the nobility has been tarnished, the authority of Parlements cast down, the Three Estates abolished…

Sighs of an Enslaved France.

It was a popular programme with the Protestants, despite its reactionary features, because it vindicated the ancient right of revolt against tyranny. In the Calvinist songs of the Gévaudan, by 1686, the pope was a rogue, but Louis XIV was a tyrant. Still, it was not Miremont but Jurieu whose vigorous thought would animate the rebellions of Languedoc. He too dwelt on political themes. In his Pastoral Letters, he accepted a social contract, a right of peoples over kings, and a legitimate recourse to insurrection. But Jurieu was in no sense a modern thinker, but rather the repository of a very ancient message, in continuity with the millenarians of the Middle Ages and the Radical Reformation like Thomas Muntzer. The revolt of the Camisards (1702) revealed how profoundly the rebels, almost all of whom were peasants and village artisans, were imbued with this millenarian mentality. In the fall of 1702, the Abbot de La Pize, the Prior to Saint-Martin-de-Bobaux, received the visit of a band of Camisards who reproached him for “remaining in a Church which is Babylon and the prostitute described by Saint John in the Apocalypse.” They felled him with three musket shots in the stomach and finished him off with their swords. While their brother fanatics of English-speaking Protestantism, most notably the Quakers, were generally pacifistic and nonviolent, the Camisard convulsionaries of the Cévannes saw themselves as heralds of war, not peace. But while the Huguenot villagers listened to their prophets, they were also stirred up by the widespread opposition to the new and detestable poll tax, which oppressed a countryside already impoverished by an economic depression. In October 1702 and again in June 1703, the bishop of Alés, spiritual head of the Cévannes diocese, wrote to the minister of war to express his view that:

The capitation is as much involved as religion in their seditious enterprises … It is certain that the people have been extremely agitated for several days… to the point that in several localities of the Vivaries they have refused to pay the capitation.”

Ladurie, p. 285.

These antitax strikes unquestionably had had important consequences. In 1703, seventy per cent of the poll tax was still unpaid, and some enormous sums of accumulated back taxes were owed until the end of the Huguenot uprising in 1705. The insurrection in the Cévennes, the last of the Ancién Régime before 1789, marks the end of the era of religious and civil wars in France. The Camisard uprising revealed itself as the outcome of a peculiar yet potent mixture of prophetic neurosis and antitax ferment. It was an insurrection engendered by an impoverished society and traumatised by the Revocation and the systematic and brutal deculturation. However, following the Huguenot uprising, the remaining Protestants, above all those in the Cévennes, were still subject to petty persecution, but less and less to outright persecution at the hands of the authorities. They were cured of their fanaticism and could devote themselves wholeheartedly to business in conformity with their ancient and profitable vocation of secular asceticism.

Conclusion –
The Decline of Huguenot Culture & End of the Great Agrarian Cycle:

In the domain of religious oppression, the natives of the Cévennes, during the Camisard insurrection, departed from the original, singular rationale of the revolt. They did not confine themselves to advocating freedom of conscience or even to simple Protestant proselytising but adopted, as a line of conduct, the hysterical trance inspired by the convulsions of the visionaries and the imminence of the Second Coming. Such behaviour was highly appreciated and, wherever possible, imitated by the Camisards’ Protestant contemporaries but was considered aberrant and neurotic among devout Catholic nationalists. These forms of behaviour encountered during popular revolts and the emotions which underlay them disclosed the existence of exceptionally well characterised anxieties, impulses, and fantasies, expressed in what Ladurie called a symbolic language of frightening obviousness. He refers to the role in peasant societies of the symptoms of hysterical ‘conversion’, a deep-seated ethnological neurosis of traditional institutions. Thanks to these symptoms, he argued, Huguenot ethics produced profound psychological motivations conformed to the social structure and the basic demographic facts of that age. Materially impoverished and sexually repressed, traditional society at the end of the seventeenth century, at least as far as the popular classes were concerned, seems to have been characterised by a series of frustrations and deficiencies which mutually reinforced and conditioned one another. The material aspects of the great agrarian cycle were inseparable from its cultural aspects. One sustained and fortified the other. With the unique Huguenot contribution much diminished by the end of Louis XIV’s reign, society, population, and the economy lacked the progressive technology of proper growth. They also lacked the conscience, culture, morals, politics, education, the reformist spirit, and the unfettered longing for success which would have stimulated technological initiative and the spirit of enterprise, permitting an economic ‘revolution’.


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1974, ’76), The Peasants of Languedoc. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Denys Cook (1980), Documents and Debates: Sixteenth-Century England. Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

Gary Martin Best (1982), Documents and Debates: Seventeenth-Century Europe. Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

George A. Taylor & J. A. Morris (c. 1936), A Sketch-Map History of Britain and Europe. London: Harrap & Co.

E. N. Williams (1980): Dictionary of English & European History, 1485-1789. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

András Bereznay, et al. (2002), The Times History of Europe: Three Thousand Years of History in Maps. London: Harper Collins.

A History of Provence & Languedoc from Roman Times to the 1550s:

By BCE 118, The Roman Empire controlled the whole Mediterranean coast westwards to the Pyrenees and a large swathe of its hinterland. The Romans subdued the region by colonisation: vast numbers of settlers were attracted to it by the promise of free land. The Celtic town at Vaison-la-Romaine (‘Romans’ on the map below) became a semi-autonomous federated city. Narbonne, further west, became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, also known, more simply, as ‘Provincia’. After 115 BCE, the Celtic tribe of the Cimbri and the Germanic Teutons mounted a series of raids on Provence, culminating in a humiliating defeat for the Romans at Orange in BCE 105. Under the Pax Romana, Gallia Narbonensis became a model province. Provence became a significant supplier of grain, olive oil and ships for the ever-hungry empire. Therefore, it was treated more like an extension of the motherland than a colonial outpost. The aqueducts, baths, amphitheatres and temples that serviced fine cities such as Aix, Arles, Nímes, Orange and Glanum (St Rémy) often surpassed those of similar-sized Italian towns. Further east they constructed the major part of Fréjus (probable birthplace of the Roman historian Tacitus), Cemenelum (Nice) and a ring of fortified settlements in what is now the eastern Var. Even after Julius Caesar had subdued the rest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars (58-51 BCE), this remained the most treasure of the empire’s transalpine possessions.

Marseilles was eclipsed after engaging with Pompey against Caesar in the Civil Wars. Besieged in 49BC, its possessions were transferred to Arles, Fréjus and Narbonne, though it continued to be a centre of scholarship. Gallia Narbonensis is now thought by some Biblical scholars to be the ‘Galatia’ referred to by Paul in his letter to the churches of Galatia, the second letter to Timothy and in the Acts of the Apostles. In his recent (2018) biography of Paul, Tom Wright suggests that it was a possible sojourn for the apostle himself on his way to northern Spain and ‘the furthest reaches of the west’ towards the end of his mission and his life in circa 58-60 AD. Emperor Antonius Pius (AD 138-161) reinforced the imperial connection with Provence and with Provence, whose family were from Nímes. In the fourth century, Arles became a favoured residence of Emperor Constantine. In the following century, the Christian community came into the open with the foundation of the monasteries of St-Honorat on the Iles des Lérins and St-Victor in Marseilles. The latter was the centre of a monastic diaspora that gave the South a generous sprinkling of abbeys from Le Barben to Castellane, ensuring the land was worked even during times of crisis. However, the monks could be as tyrannical in exploiting the peasantry as any feudal landlord.

In Nímes, on the Rhóne Delta. Encircled by two tiers of sixty stone arcades, this Roman arena of perfect classical proportions, smaller than the one at Arles but better preserved. There are little carvings of Romulus and Remus on the exterior, wresting gladiators and two bulls’ heads over the main entrance. After the departure of the Romans, the amphitheatre was made into a fortress, and by the Middle Ages, it was a vast tenement block.

When the Roman Empire finally fell apart in 476, the bishoprics maintained some semblance of order in the face of invasions by the Goths. However, the Franks finally gained the upper hand but also looked north rather than South, and the Meditteranean trade that had sustained Arles and Marseilles gradually dried up. The three-way partition of the Carolingian Empire between the sons of Louis I in the Treaty of Verdun in 843 made the Rhóne a frontier and provided the basis for the later division between Provence and Languedoc. In 931, the Kingdom of Provence, one of the many fragments of Charlemagne’s empire, was allied with Burgundy. Over the next two centuries, imperial rule gave way to out-and-out feudalism, with its local landlords using brute force and taxes to subdue the territory around their castle strongholds. Arles also became a kingdom under its Count, confirming its power as part of the Holy Roman Empire. From the end of the eleventh century, more efficient agriculture, the revival of trade and the rise of guilds provided the money for the construction of new religious foundations, such as the magnificent abbey of St-Gilles in the Camargue, with its richly-carved facade and the restoration and embellishment of St-Trophime in Arles. A more sober, pared-back style of Romanesque also evolved in the twelfth century at the tremendous Cistercian foundations of Silvacane, Senanque and Thoronet. In 1113, the title of Count of Provence passed to the House of Barcelona when the local line died out. However, the larger cities asserted their independence, setting up local governments known as Consulates.

Barcelona’s sway over Mediterranean France was helped along by language. Provencal, the eastern dialect of Occitan or langue d’Oc, was a close cousin of Catalan. Out of the apparent anarchy and the frequent shifts in the balance of power among the warring seigneuries, a distinctive local culture emerged, reaching its fullest expression in the poetry and ballads of the troubadours, the itinerant love poets. In 1246, through marriage, Provence came under Angevin rule, and the Anjou princes ruled for two and a half centuries, bringing a new degree of stability and making Aix their administrative capital. Louis II of Anjou, however, founded the university there in 1409 and in 1442, ‘good’ King René of Anjou established his court at Aix and built a lavishly furnished cháteau at Tarascon (pictured below). The reign of the poet-king was longer and more stable than most, and he encouraged an artistic revival in his court. The last local warlords, the Baux family, retreated to Orange, beginning a dynastic chain that led to the House of Orange becoming the rulers of Protestant Holland in the sixteenth century. Charles du Maine, René’s nephew, survived his uncle by only a year, dying without an heir in 1481. He bequeathed Anjou, Maine and Provence (excluding Savoy, Monaco and the Comtat Venaissin) to King Louis XI of France. Not only Provence but also Roussillon, Burgundy, Lorraine and parts of northern Italy came under the sway of the French monarchy.

Tarascon is dominated by its great white-walled fifteenth century Cháteau, the favourite of ‘Good’ (as in good-living) King René, with its ornately carved grand courtyard. The castle was lavishly decorated with spiral staircases, painted ceilings, and tapestries. to satisfy the king’s love of material comforts

After trying strong-arm tactics for the first three years, the French monarchy decided to allow Provence at least, for the time being, a semblance of autonomy, with the Act of Union (1486) granting a considerable measure of it within the French state. A Parlement was established at Aix in 1501, but there were still several autonomous ‘pockets’, most notably Marseilles, which stoutly defended its republican traditions. Francis I subdued the city and used the Marseilles shipyards in his Italian wars against his arch-enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V replied by besieging the city in 1523. He added fortifications on the Ile de Porquerolles and at St-Paul-de-Vence, where they survive intact to this day.

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